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Szechuan shrimp is spicy and packed with flavor from ginger, garlic, Szechuan pepper, and other seasonings. This Chinese restaurant takeout classic is quick and easy to make at home, too.
Spicy Szechuan shrimp has always been one of my favorite Chinese restaurant dishes. The spicy kick and layers of flavor from hot bean paste, Szechuan peppercorns, and other seasonings make these Szechuan prawns really stand out.
What Is Szechuan or Sichuan cuisine?
There are eight distinctive cooking styles within Chinese cuisine—Fujian, Anhui, Cantonese, Hunan, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Shandong, and Sichuan—representing each of the country’s eight provinces.
Szechuan cuisine (also called Sichuan cuisine or Szechwan cuisine) is a cooking style that relies on bold, spicy flavors. The quintessential foods of Sichuan are liberally seasoned with chili peppers, garlic, preserved/pickled vegetables, and Szechuan peppercorn.
This Szechuan shrimp dish contains all of these flavorful ingredients. This is one of the Sichuan dishes you’ll often find in American Chinese restaurants. Other Sichuan dishes include Salt and Pepper Chicken, Mapo Tofu, and Dandan Noodles.
I’m sure this dish is made differently in China, but this recipe is very close to what I grew up eating in Chinese restaurants in the San Francisco Bay Area.
In researching this topic, I’ve learned that this recipe may be similar to what many people in this country know as Hunan Shrimp as it doesn’t have any added sweetener.
Most of the recipes I’ve found for Szechuan shrimp have either sweetener like sugar or honey or sweet ingredients like ketchup or hoisin sauce. This one doesn’t.
So if you’re used to a sweeter dish, this Szechuan shrimp recipe may surprise you. It is spicy, savory, and a bit tangy, but not particularly sweet.
WHAT are szechuan PEPPERCORNS?
Szechuan peppercorns or Sichuan peppercorns, are not actually peppercorns at all. They are the husks of the seeds of a type of citrus.
Szechuan pepper isn’t hot like chili pepper, or even like black pepper. Instead it causes a numbing sensation in the mouth. Some say it’s purpose in a dish that also has chili peppers is to counteract the spiciness of the chilies.
This spice has a unique flavor—it’s a bit floral and citrusy. And when you eat it, you’ll experience a tingly, mouth-numbing sensation that you might find weirdly pleasant.
What ingredients do you need to make szechuan shrimp?
This Szechuan shrimp is intense with the flavors with garlic, ginger, and tangy fermented beans, and it has a spicy kick, too. Here are the ingredients you need:
- Shaoxing wine (or substitute dry sherry, dry white wine, or sake)
- Several cloves of garlic
- Fresh ginger
- Chili oil with fermented black beans
- Hot bean paste or doubanjiang
- Cooking oil (canola oil, peanut oil, or another high smoke-point oil. Not olive oil.)
- Soy sauce
- Szechuan peppercorns or Szechuan Pepper Salt
- Scallions or green onions
What Are shoaxing wine, chili oil with fermented beans, and doubanjiang?
I really wanted this recipe to recreate the flavors of the Szechuan shrimp I have eaten in Sichuan restaurants here in the Bay Area. In order to do that, I had to use some ingredients that are common in Sichuan cuisine, but that you might not be able to get at the regular supermarket.
All of these items are available in Asian markets or online.
Chili oil with fermented black beans is just what it sounds like. It is sold in jars alongside the regular chili oil. If you can’t find it, you can substitute regular chili oil with fermented black beans (rinsed and roughly chopped) added.
Combine them in a 1:1 ratio and use the same total quantity as the recipe calls for. You can also substitute Chili Crisp if you happen to have a jar of that on hand.
Shaoxing wine is a Chinese rice wine with a distinctive flavor. Unlike sake and other rice wines, it is amber in color with more flavor depth.
Dry sherry is the best substitute. If you don’t have that, you can substitute dry white wine or sake, but neither will give the same depth of flavor. The Japanese rice wine mirin is okay, too, but it is much sweeter than Shaoxing.
Doubanjiang, also called hot bean paste or spicy bean paste, is chili bean sauce made from fermented soybeans, chile peppers, and other ingredients. It is spicy, with the tang of fermented beans, and tons of umami.
If you don’t have doubounjiang, add additional chili oil with fermented black beans and a dash of sesame oil. The dish won’t be the same, but you’ll still get some of the flavor from the fermented beans and hot chiles.
How do you make szechuan shrimp?
Szechuan shrimp is easy to make. It’s really just a quick stir-fry. Here’s how I do it:
- Toss the shrimp with cornstarch and Shaoxing wine.
- Combine the sauce ingredients in a small bowl (chili oil with fermented black beans, hot bean paste or doubanjiang, soy sauce, Szechuan peppercorns or Szechuan Pepper Salt, and cooking wine.)
- Heat a bit of cooking oil in a wok or large skillet over medium-high heat.
- Add the shrimp to the pan and stir fry until they shrimp are just opaque. Transfer the shrimp to a bowl or plate.
- Add a bit more oil to the pan and then add ginger and garlic and cook, stirring, for a minute or so.
- Add the sauce mixture to the pan and bring to a boil. Let the mixture cook for a minute or two.
- Return the shrimp to the pan.
- Stir together corn starch and water and then add this to the pan and cook, stirring, until the sauce thickens.
- Serve immediately, garnished with scallions.
What do you serve with Sichuan Shrimp?
I usually serve this dish as a quick weeknight meal. As such, I lean towards a couple of simple sides. I usually serve steamed white rice and a steamed vegetable like broccoli or green beans alongside.
Spicy Szechuan Shrimp
- 1 ½ pounds shrimp peeled and deveined
- 3 tablespoons Shaoxing wine divided
- 3 teaspoons cornstarch divided
- ½ cup plus 1 teaspoon water divided
- 1 ½ tablespoons doubanjiang spicy bean paste
- 1 ½ tablespoons chili oil with fermented black beans
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 3 tablespoons cooking oil divided
- 4 garlic cloves minced
- 1 tablespoon minced ginger
- 1/4 teaspoon Szechuan peppercorns or Szechuan pepper-salt
- 2 scallions thinly sliced, for garnish
- In a medium bowl, toss together the shrimp with 2 tablespoons of the Shaoxing wine and 2 teaspoons of the cornstarch.
- In a small bowl, combine ½ cup of the water, chili oil with black beans, doubanjiang, soy sauce, Szechuan peppercorns or pepper-salt, and the remaining tablespoon of wine.
- In a separate small bowl, combine the remaining teaspoon of cornstarch with the remaining teaspoon of water.
- Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a wok or large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the shrimp and cook, stirring, until just opaque, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove the shrimp from the skillet.
- Add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the skillet and heat over medium heat. Add the garlic and ginger and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.
- Add the sauce mixture to the skillet and bring to a boil. Cook, stirring, for a minute or two, then return the shrimp to the skillet along with any accumulated juices.
- Bring the sauce back to a boil and then add the cornstarch-water mixture. Cook, stirring, for another minute or two until the shrimp is heated through and the sauce thickens.
- Serve hot, garnished with scallions.